Frisco's COVID-19 Community HeroesJun 01, 2020 ● By Allie Spletter
The Behind-the-Scenes Hero
Often times when we think of the word “hero,” our brains go straight to those front -line workers who are affected; however, behind those front-line workers are hard-working teams of professionals with the goal of keeping things operating smoothly and ensuring there’s a plan for everyone’s safety. Frisco Fire Department Emergency Management Analyst Amanda Meldrum’s job lies in working with the Deputy Emergency Management Coordinator Jason Lane to ensure the City of Frisco is prepared to respond to and recover from all types of disasters. Mrs. Meldrum’s day-to-day job includes monitoring locations that house hazardous materials in the city, monitoring severe weather, major incidents and special events from the Emergency Operations Center, as well as the coordination of Frisco’s Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) training and exercises, updating and maintain the City of Frisco Emergency Management Plan and participating in regional meetings and exercises to strengthen Frisco’s regional response and recovery capabilities. While her days have been consistent through the years, the COVID-19 pandemic has led to changes in Mrs. Meldrum’s daily operations.
“During the COVID-19 pandemic, my duties have definitely shifted. I currently monitor the Emergency Operations Center with my supervisor, Jason Lane, every day from 8am to 5pm. We are monitoring conference calls with Frisco Independent School District, Denton and Collin County Emergency Management, Center for Disease Control, Department and State Health Services and Texas Division of Emergency Management. We monitor all press conferences with Governor Abbott and President Trump. We send daily situation reports to the department directors, City Council and City Manager’s office. We are tracking the number of confirmed cases, recovered, hospitalized and fatalities for Frisco, as well as monitoring county-wide numbers for Denton and Collin counties. We are also fielding calls from the public in relation to COVID-19,” Mrs. Meldrum explains. She feels like the most important aspect of her job is to help educate the public on emergency management and what we would like the public to do in the event of a disaster. Mrs. Meldrum believes education on how to prepare for a long-term disaster, both man-made and natural disasters, where assistance may not arrive immediately, is crucial to preparing a resilient community.
While Mrs. Meldrum and her team have done an incredible job helping guide Frisco through a global pandemic, it unfortunately has not been an easy road for her. Mrs. Meldrum reflects, “I think the hardest part about traversing the pandemic personally has been the long hours. We normally work 11 to 12-hour days and have adjusted our schedule to cover the weekends. I am trying to soak up every minute I can with my family when I am home. The hardest part, professionally, is ensuring we make the best decision for everyone affected. It’s difficult when you are dealing with people’s livelihoods, and it is difficult to be the person that tells them they cannot be open.” She continues, “I feel my purpose in life is to help others in any way I can, so I am thankful I’ve gotten the opportunity to do so; although I wish we did not have to. I feel we as a city and as a department have learned a lot from this situation and we can now use that knowledge to better prepare ourselves to assist our residents in the future.”
As we collectively work towards regaining a sense of normalcy, it is Mrs. Meldrum’s hope our community comes out of this pandemic with a greater appreciation for all involved in the response. “There were many difficult decisions made by all levels of government in response to COVID-19, and I hope our community can understand why Frisco responded the way we did. I also hope our citizens can remain positive and look to the future as we continue to recover,” she shares. She spent six years active duty in the Army before moving to north Texas where she began her career in Frisco at the Frisco Police Department as a 911 Dispatcher. In 2016, she worked for two years before transitioning to the Fire Department as an Emergency Management Analyst.
The City Communications Hero
Whether at the local, state or national level, communication has been key in the fight against COVID-19 and in working to keep community members informed and safe. As news, facts and figures have developed in recent months, Dana Baird, director of communications and media relations for the City of Frisco, and her communications team have worked tirelessly to ensure our community is well-informed and are receiving up-to-date information. A Las Vegas native, Ms. Baird worked in varying positions as a reporter, anchor and producer in markets in Nevada, Idaho, Oklahoma and Texas. Her last TV reporting job was at WFAA, where she spent five years, covering the ‘groundbreaking’ for Stonebriar Centre.
While she loved her work there, the commute downtown to WFAA remained the part of the job that she didn’t love. Ms. Baird recalls, “One day, I was assigned to do a story about people changing careers to fill a statewide teacher shortage. I was inspired and reached out to FISD. The then Communication Director Shona McKay Wortham, said they didn’t have openings – but she thought the city might be looking for someone. I started working for the City of Frisco six months before the mall opened and it’s been ‘Progress in Motion’ ever since – very fast-paced, but always challenging and rewarding. I’ve learned so much along the way. I have greater skills, I’m still a storyteller and my commute is only 15 minutes. I’ve also enjoyed being close to home, available to my family when needed. I’m also closer to the office when emergencies happen – like weather or COVID-19.”
Ms. Baird celebrated her twentieth anniversary on the job this past March. She is the first city Public Information Officer (PIO), and as our city grew, so did her role and responsibilities. The job evolved into director of communications and media relations. “I started out alone; today, ‘communications’ is a team of 10. In the beginning, I was charged with writing Focal Point, the city’s newsletter and press releases. Today, our team also broadcasts council and planning and zoning meetings; provides video production; secures sponsorships; produces special events and shepherds private event producers through our city’s permitting process; manages the city’s municipal volunteer program; manages multiple social media platforms and provides communication during crisis situations,” Ms. Baird explains.
In the face of COVID-19, Ms. Baird and her team’s jobs have ramped up even more in the name of getting pertinent information and communication out to the public. Regarding how their roles have shifted in dealing with the pandemic, Ms. Baird explains, “We have issued ‘updates’ every day since the first Frisco cases were confirmed March 9, increasing our volume of work; however, we’re using all our tools in the communication toolbox. We’ve managed to maintain our weekly ‘Progress in Motion’ video series, though many of the pieces have focused on our city’s efforts to tackle this health crisis. Additionally, our City Council encouraged us to share the ‘good news’ stories – so we created a series called “Spread Kindness Not the Virus” which showcases ‘good works’ of city staff, volunteers, residents, donors and partners in our community during the pandemic. Early on, we managed a special Town Hall meeting about the situation, and we’ve continued to use a telephone ‘call in’ approach for our City Council and Planning and Zoning meetings so the public can engage in the meetings from home.” The work hasn’t come without challenges, and Ms. Baird says the most challenging part has been traversing the unknowns as COVID-19 information has changed and evolved in recent weeks and months. “Since Frisco is in two counties, we are receiving information from two health authorities. Our job is to marry the two. The types of information the counties share directly slightly vary. Both counties have digital dashboards now, as does the City of Frisco. People can find a lot of information on these dashboards. It took us about a week to get into a rhythm. But we’ve got a system of sorts now, and we’re very appreciative for our communication colleagues in Collin and Denton counties.”
Now more than ever Ms. Baird and her team know and believe that information and communication, especially on a city level, is always valuable in our daily lives, but nowadays accuracy and timeliness of communication is even more important as we navigate a COVID-19 world. Of the around-the-clock work she and her team have done, Ms. Baird says, “I’m proud to have a small part – and very proud of not just our communication team but all our city staff colleagues. Everyone has rallied and is doing their very best during such a challenging time.”
The Restaurant Support Hero
If there’s anything we know about Frisco, it’s that our people support their community. We take care of our own. When the COVID-19 shut down and quarantine swept over our city, our residents were quick to act in working to ensure the businesses that make our city great were taken care of and supported in a critically unprecedented time. As developments came sweeping down from state and city government, the quarantine ultimately resulted in the closing of businesses and vastly limiting restaurant operations to limit the spread of COVID-19. As restaurants scrambled to determine how to continue serving their valued customers, Liz Carla, Frisco resident and realtor with Ebby Halliday, sprang into action creating the “Support Frisco Restaurants” Facebook group, which now boasts more than 10,000 members.
“I created the page to offer support to Frisco restaurants that were forced to close their dining rooms per the governor’s order, Ms. Carla explains. “I wanted a group where restaurants and members could post which restaurants were open for take-out and what menu items were available.” Given many of the governor’s orders were put in place so quickly, while restaurants scrambled, Frisco residents did as well, not necessarily knowing which restaurants they could still support and in what ways. The Support Frisco Restaurants Facebook group gave residents and restaurant owners alike a place to give information and updates. “I am beyond thrilled the group has taken off with more than 10,000 members and has gained such tremendous momentum,” Ms. Carla says. “Members in the group post pictures of the wonderful food and service they’ve received, and restaurants post their specials which really helps others in the group see what amazing food opportunities are available. It’s been really heartening to see the generosity of the various restaurants as they donate food and meals to seniors, medical personnel and front-line workers.”
The ways in which members of the groups and restaurant owners have been able to support each other and promote business through the group truly is heartwarming, as posts in the group range anywhere from a member sharing an incredible dish they had from a restaurant to another restaurant owner sharing their specials for the weekend. Many members of the group have used the COVID-19 quarantine as an opportunity to try restaurants in Frisco they haven’t had, and they take the opportunity to report back and tell the group how amazing it was. One Frisco restaurant owner and member of the group posted a thank you to group members saying, “Hey all, thank you again for rallying around restaurants during all of this. It has kept many of us from shutting our doors for good. I can say firsthand,” while another member of the group posted telling members their hope was they could keep the group going even when restrictions are lifted as she loved having the page to give her ideas on where to eat and support.
As Frisco moves forward and continues to traverse unique times, Ms. Carla’s hope for our community is for it to become stronger economically than it was before it was affected by COVID-19. “My intent is to keep the page going even after the ‘stay at home’ order is lifted so that it can be a place where people in Frisco can go and find great food and continue to support awesome restaurants,” she concludes.
The Relief Services Hero
In response to COVID-19 developments, the “stay at home” order, and the closing of businesses, community members not only worked to care for our first responders and healthcare workers but also individuals and families in our community affected by COVID-19 in unforeseen ways. North Texas Relief (NTR) is a local grass-roots organization, homegrown here in the heart of North Texas, providing essential services to those affected by COVID-19 by way of job loss, the inability to get groceries and needed supplies, or the emotional burden brought on by the pandemic. Kellie Benson with North Texas Relief explains how their work was started by saying, “We all came from different walks of life when the group first started and we all just kind of jumped in and filled a spot that we felt needed our expertise. It quite literally just took off from there with each of our ‘leadership team’ owning a different part we knew we could excel in. I have taken care of our social media, marketing and photography/videography and have loved every minute of capturing what this group is doing!”
Ms. Benson says the group has been able to consistently deliver hope to the community, both during and even before the pandemic and quarantine, but it has not been without the support from the community that goes deeper than just the core team that helped get the group going. “We were merely the vessel that provided all the hope we were receiving from our community members. From food and supply donations to financial donations for the cause to the countless volunteers that helped us perform safe and sanitary care package drops for our most valuable community members to all the notes of encouragement and beyond. The outcome has truly been amazing,” Ms. Benson says. She recalls, “There was one time in particular that I ran out and got groceries and sanitized them and went to drop them for an FISD family whose mom is battling cancer, and I discretely put them on the porch and left. But when I got in my car and drove away, I had this overwhelming sense of emotion come over me, and I think it was because I had now been a part of big projects with large communities as well as helping a family on a more personal level. They would have never asked for help and the fact that their friends came forward to anonymously say they could use our assistance was just amazing to me. It goes to show you how much our community cares for its members and wants to make sure they’re taken care of.”
Ms. Benson’s favorite part of being involved in NTR is experiencing the community camaraderie and the willingness to jump in and help. “The level of passion and grace our community members show each other is incredible. They’ve come out in droves and have made it easier to successfully follow our mission. To have played a part in making someone’s life a little less hectic has been more than inspiring,” she admits. Of being able to help community members, Ms. Benson doesn’t necessary believe she’s doing anything special, only what she’s been called to do. “It is an incredibly humbling experience to know we have been able to help so many as a group. I lost my job right before the quarantine hit, and it was an incredibly difficult time for me with so much uncertainty, but this group gave me something to shift my energy towards in a positive way and totally changed the way I dealt with my own emotional turmoil throughout these unprecedented times. I’ve grown in ways I didn’t know I needed to and got a healthy dose of being grateful for what I have, regardless of the season of life I’m in,” Ms. Benson says.
“My hope, as we begin to come out of this, is that we continue strengthening the bonds we’ve formed as a community and we are able to heal from the hardships this pandemic has caused, as one powerhouse community. Being involved with NTR totally solidified my love for not just North Texas, but Frisco in particular. I am so proud to be raising my daughter here. Our community is like none other and to see so many friendships formed through this, including my own, is one of the best things to happen,” Ms. Benson concludes.
Tara Yell - Frisco Gives Back Facebook Group
As the COVID-19 pandemic rapidly developed across the globe and hit home here in Frisco, our community wasted no time working hard to determine how to support those literally standing in the face of the disease. People are working to keep others safe – hospital medical workers, fire department and emergency medical services (EMS) personnel – as our police department and other community organizations work hard to take care of others. Frisco resident and first grade teacher Tara Yell was inspired by the bravery of each of these groups and set out to create a way to give back to them, creating the “Frisco Gives Back” Facebook group that has given community members a way to thank those doing the most.
After organizing donations to LovePacs Frisco, a group who supplies Frisco kids in need with meals, and organizing a card and art donation for senior citizens when the “stay at home” order was implemented, Ms. Yell began to think on a broader, yet focused, scale. Ms. Yell recalls, “After the first two weeks, I was thinking about who else we could encourage. This is where Frisco Gives Back started. I knew there were people like me in the community who wished they could do more. I was thinking about who this is really affecting. This led to reaching out to people I know in the community with EMS and Medical City Frisco. I checked to see what they could accept and learned most could accept thank you cards and gift cards. Creating the Facebook group Frisco Gives Back was simply the easiest way to launch the idea, and it is one place that has all of the information. Ms. Yell believed, too, that donating gift cards was a great way to support businesses in Frisco and had people donate gift cards from a variety of local businesses.
Ms. Yell felt it was important to encourage our front-line workers who went out to serve, care for, and even save our community. She explains, “I started out collecting handwritten thank you cards and $10 gift cards to give them a small gift of thanks from our community. Then ear savers (headbands to help relieve irritation behind medical worker’s ears) were donated by my coworker Brandon Hunter and Jennifer Bell of Southern Bell Designs, so I was able to add that to each present.” As the group grew, so did Ms. Yell’s ideas regarding how she and group members could work to serve those on the frontlines, which led to one of the group’s most positive outreaches. “I told myself if the group got to 500, I would organize Shift Change Cheers. We have done three so far (Medical City Frisco, Texas Health Frisco and Baylor Scott & White - Centennial), and they have been wonderful. The community has really shown up. We have also had quite a few fire engines and police cars from Frisco fire and police departments. The purpose of these is again to brighten their day and show them how much we appreciate what they are doing for us.”
While Ms. Yell doesn’t feel she has personally helped the community, her creation of the platform for community members to gather their efforts has resulted in lots of smiles and encouraged healthcare workers. She admits, “It has been my joy gathering the beautiful letters from the community and putting together the gift bags. The response has been beautifully overwhelming. I never imagined the group would have more than 800 followers and so many would see the events posted to come to our Shift Change Cheers.”
Many businesses across the community have helped Frisco Gives Back in recent months and weeks including Front Yard Swag, Frisco Fury Lacrosse and Crush Taco. Since its creation, the group has gifted the 27 shifts of Frisco Fire/EMS with $100 gift cards, has gifted the nurses and doctors at Medical City Frisco’s Emergency and COVID-19 Unit, has gifted the nurses and doctors at Texas Health Frisco Emergency and 5th floor, and has gifted the nurses and doctors at Baylor Frisco ER and 1st floor. Ms. Yell’s hope for Frisco as it moves forward is that it continues to be a close, supportive community that remains thankful for all of the people that serve it.